Clergy: Vote ‘no’ on CMS school bond referendum

Charlotte clergy oppose the $2.5 billion bond referendum for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and an unnecessary economic risk to taxpayers.

Editor’s note: Thirty members of the African American Clergy Coalition in Charlotte signed as supporters.

The $2.5 billion Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bond package on the November ballot is the largest bond proposal in Mecklenburg County history.

This historic bond offering also comes during a time of considerable economic uncertainty. Mortgage interest rates are at a 20-year high and the Federal Reserve has shown no indication of halting the rise in interest rates.

Inflation continues to climb, which means building projects in the bond will occur during a period of high construction costs. And, uncertainty over the federal budget has a trickle-down effect on the economy, impacting consumer confidence and job growth.

For these reasons alone the proposed bond package should have not been placed before voters in this election cycle. Beginning in March, members of the African American Clergy Coalition, including me, began lobbying CMS and Mecklenburg County officials not to place a bond before voters in this election cycle — to no avail.

The recent Mecklenburg property revaluations resulted in property tax hikes that disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities in “the crescent” of lower-income communities in the north, east and west of the city. It’s an area identified in the Opportunity Task Force report, Charlotte’s response to being listed 50th out of 50 cities in economic mobility.

In some cases, older property owners saw the tax value of their property increase by nearly 300%. Passage of the bonds would add additional taxes each year, possibly for the next five years, placing some older property owners under threat of displacement.

Most residents are unaware of the tax impact if the bond package passes, and neither CMS nor Mecklenburg County sought to provide this important information. Charlotte already faces an affordable housing crisis and home ownership is out of reach for many. Those who rent could see the cost of the bond package passed down in the form of rent increases.

Under current conditions, passage of the bond package is bad public policy. It will make Charlotte less affordable for the very people the bond package is intended to serve.

The economic impact of the bonds also fails to adequately address minority business participation. There should clearly be a firm commitment on meaningful participation of minority-owned businesses if Black and Brown voters are expected to vote in favor of the bonds. No such agreement currently exists, which provides another reason to vote “no.”

The investment needed in CMS is not for buildings, but an investment that will improve academic outcomes. In the past three years CMS has seen its low-performing schools increase from 42 schools in 2020-21 to 59 in 2022-23. The pandemic impacted, and still is impacting, low-performing schools. That crisis is causing some parents to opt out of CMS or look for alternative sources to educate their children.

Charlotte has seen an increase of charter schools and religious-based schools. The actions of N.C. legislature in expanding funding and removing income caps for the Opportunity Scholarship program places further pressure on CMS and all public schools in North Carolina to improve their educational product or risk losing students. Student enrollment at CMS has not kept pace with the growth of Charlotte over the last five years.

There is a better way to address facility needs than a bond proposal. The African American Clergy Coalition advocates that CMS make use of Mecklenburg County’s new rolling capital Improvement program to address facility needs. Using the rolling capital improvement program would require CMS to prioritize its building projects and could prevent the building of new schools that could close within a relatively short period of time.

We urge voters to vote “no” on the CMS bond package. There is a better way.

Rev. Ricky A. Woods is pastor at First Baptist Church West. Rev. Dennis R. Williams is pastor at Faith Memorial Missionary Baptist Church, and Rev. Jordan B. Boyd is pastor at Rockwell AME Zion Church. They are members of the African American Clergy Coalition.


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